Tuesday, 23 November 2010

An Incy Wincy Story

Just a quick note to brag about my most recent success - a second win over at TXTLIT. If you don't already know about TxtLit and you're a writer with a mobile phone, it's well worth having a look. The tiny word count (actually it's a character count, and you've got to fit all those spaces and commas, dashes and semi-colons into your limit of 154 characters) forces you to really scrutinise each and every word.

They've quoted me on the site saying how powerful a single word can be, and that's something that applies to fiction (or writing in general, actually) of any length, although it's amplified when you're trying to squeeze a whole story into 30 words or less - mine tips the scales at 28. For instance, the word "ripcord" in my story is not only a key element of the plot, but it saves me dozens of words of description - I don't need to mention parachutes, aeroplanes, gravity, etc: it's all implied by those 7 characters.

This is a way of thinking I'm trying to apply to my other writing. I know I have a tendency to over-write, and I think it's something that separates aspiring writers like me from the people who've already made it - that confidence in what they're writing that lets them just sit back and think, "Yeah, that's enough. The readers will work it out." It can be difficult to resist hammering the point home, just to make sure everyone knows exactly what you're saying. I'm starting to realise that's an impossible goal. Some people will never get it, others won't want to. The readers who are on your wavelength will tune in naturally, and they'll respect you for not spoon-feeding them.

It would be easy to be a bit sniffy about TxtLit, and question the literary merits of it and other formats that consist of so few words. But I'll defend my story as just that - a proper story. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It has a point of realisation after which nothing will ever be the same. It has backstory. Whether or not it is written with flair is not really for me to comment, but I'm pleased with the way it turned out. I'm not going to claim it as one of the masterworks of modern fiction, but any writer who takes on a challenge like this has to spend time thinking carefully about words, about sentence structure, and about how readers interpret their work. That, I'm convinced, can only be a good thing.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Not a Trouser Press in Sight...

Knowing me Dan Purdue, knowing you Blog Readers. Ah-ha!

Er, yes. In my defence I've been feeling quite a lot like Alan Partridge  recently, living in hotels and rented accommodation for a couple of weeks. The tedium of living out of a suitcase and eating on my own in restaurants has made me feel a lot like Alan in the third (and in my opinion, the best) series of his show, although so far I've managed to resist begging the staff to make adult films appear on the TV, or dismantling the trouser press. The latter may only be because I haven't stayed anywhere that actually provides a trouser press yet.

The reason for this is that as of last week and for the next few months, I'll be working part of each week in Leeds and staying in a hotel/B&B while I'm there. Initially I thought that this would mean I'd have a lot of time on my hands in the evenings and could get a lot of writing done, but it hasn't worked out that way. I've found that by the time I've got back from work, changed into casual (i.e. scruffy) clothes, walked or driven into town, found somewhere to eat, eaten, paid, and walked back again, there's actually not that much of the evening left. I wrote a page of a short story and a few notes for other stuff, but not the huge chunks of progress I was anticipating. I think instead I'll try to do some editing while I'm away - that seems more realistic. I tend to edit longhand using a printed copy and a biro, which are a lot more portable than a laptop.

In the middle of my first two weeks in my new role was a writing weekend, of the extremely enjoyable variety. Some friends and I hired a cottage in the Yorkshire Dales and holed up for three days doing various writerly things. For me, the most interesting and useful was a tightly structured review circle, the type where you read a piece out and then sit anxiously chewing your fingernails while the group members make notes and then, one-by-one, tell you what they thought of it. The key thing is that you don't get the chance to respond to the comments until the end. This is quite hard (I resorted to literally biting my tongue at times), but it's worth it. If one person picks up on something that doesn't work, it's easy to get all defensive/indignant and assume they weren't paying attention. When the comment gets echoed by two or three others, it's somehow easier to take the criticism. Not that it's diluted, it's just that it becomes obvious that the bit they're talking about simply doesn't work. From that point on, you're not dealing with opinion but a matter of fact, and (for me, at least) that feels like something concrete, something that can be worked on and improved. We also wrote new things, ate and drank a lot and stayed up late talking nonsense. Good times.

But after all that it's good to be home again. Today I've painted what used to be the garage but will soon be my office / writing room / guest bedroom, listened to the five stories shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award (very good, all of them - hear them on Listen Again or get the podcasts, here), and admired my signed copy of Not So Perfect - which, I was pleased to see, Nik Perring had signed using his "dried blood" ink as per his interview on Teresa Stenson's "Tell Me How You Write" spot on her blog.

Oh, and having been shortlisted for the H.E. Bates Short Story Competition (one of the news items I hinted at in my last post), I found out I'd got no further than that, which is a shame. Still, nice to have made the shortlist.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Updated Comps Page and Hints of Other News

I've updated my competition page, clearing out the ones that have passed their closing dates and adding a few more that I've found. There's a good mix there, something for everyone, I hope.

I haven't had a lot of time to attend to this blog since the end of October, and I'm just about to rush off into the Yorkshire Dales for a weekend of writing and, potentially, wine and Twiglets too. However, I will say that I've been lucky enough to win a signed copy of Nik Perring's "Not So Perfect" - which will go nicely with the not-so-signed copy I bought a couple of weeks ago (I wish I'd remembered I'd entered that competition before I ordered it!). Many thanks to the lovely people at The Lancashire Writing Hub for organising the prize draw.

The Hints of Other News I mention in the title of this post relate to a couple of things that for the moment I'm going to have to be a bit vague about. The first is because I don't want to jinx it, and the second is more certain but still needs to have several things confirmed before I start blabbing about it on here. You'll have to bear with me, and I'll let you know what's happening as soon as I can.